INsiders Guide : Exclusive Interview with MIREI

Japanese singer/songwriter MIREI possesses a truly transcendent voice, delicate and ethereal yet supremely skilled at channeling complex emotion. Born in Osaka and based in Tokyo, the 21-year-old artist now brings her magnetic vocal presence to Take Me Away – her new album which instantly affirms her rare talent for making dance-pop music with both heartfelt sensitivity and unapologetic power. Arriving as her English-language debut, Take Me Away finds MIREI collaborating with producer/songwriters Zak Leever (a classically trained musician who’s earned support from industry heavyweights like Diplo) and DJ Shiftee (a two-time DMC World Champion). With its hypnotic melodies and otherworldly beats, the album artfully merges elements of R&B-pop and electronic, dreaming up a boldly original sound but never distracting from MIREI’s captivating vocals. And in crafting her intimate lyrics, MIREI carefully drew from personal experience as a young woman in Japan’s capital city. “There’s a light side and a shadow side to Tokyo, and I’ve seen a lot of the shadow,” MIREI notes. “I wanted to write songs that let people know about both sides.” 

All throughout the album, MIREI’s kaleidoscopic sound provides a potent backdrop to her lyrical reflection, which listeners will soon find out as preps and launches her first international album in 2020. On the album’s title track, for instance, she speaks to the sometimes-painful push for authenticity in a deeply conformist culture. “‘Take Me Away’ is about how hard it is to feel like you belong, especially when you’re dealing with things like anxiety and depression,” she says. And while the brightly textured track unfolds with a certain melancholy, MIREI offers some sweetly delivered encouragement to embrace your own truth, subtly turning “Take Me Away” into an undeniable anthem. The groove-heavy “Let Me Be” turns intensely soulful as she muses on power imbalances between genders, while “Lonely in Tokyo” contrasts its shiny disco beat with an up-close portrait of the struggles of two former classmates: a Papa-katsu companion and an aspiring idol singer. “Idol girls are very popular within my culture,” MIREI explains. “They sing and dance but are often objectified by fans. They’re expected to always look like dolls (cute, lovable), or be oversexualized in media.” And on “Not a Number,” with its gently dizzying rhythm and achingly tender vocals, MIREI pays poignant tribute to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements as she shares the story of Shiori Itō—a Japanese journalist/filmmaker who suffered severe backlash upon accusing a prominent TV journalist of rape.

Not only showcasing her fearless honesty, Take Me Away endlessly reveals the tremendous musical passion that MIREI has pursued for almost her entire life. “When I was really young, like three-years-old, my parents used to bring me to karaoke and sing all night long,” she recalls. In kindergarten she began taking dance lessons, which immediately sparked a fascination with pop divas like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Soon enough, MIREI added singing to her repertoire and – with the help of Garage Band – began making music on her own when she was just 12-years-old. By age 13, MIREI had caught the attention of a major record label, her first step toward global stardom. While spending her eighth-grade year in New York City, she performed in the prestigious choir Gospel For Teens, and took home the top prize at the legendary Amateur Night at the Apollo. After moving to Tokyo the following year, MIREI soon found success with several hit singles and album releases on her home turf. Eventually teaming up with Zak Leever and DJ Shiftee, she began the process of bringing Take Me Away to life in 2018.

For MIREI, the making of Take Me Away marks a thrilling new chapter in her growth as an artist – one that finds her facing the most difficult of emotions, then transforming those feelings into music that questions, challenges, and ultimately empowers. “I was so moved by the whole experience of making these songs,” says MIREI. “Sometimes it actually hurt to write them, but I think that’s a good thing. A lot of the time what we feel isn’t happy or perfect, but talking about it is what connects us. I hope that hearing these songs helps other people to feel more connected too.”

Hi Mirei, welcome to OLC! We’re excited to have you here. So how did your passion for music develop and who inspired you?

Thank you for having me, I’m excited too!

When I was young, I wasn’t very good at making new friends. So my parents were worried about me and took me to dance school. That’s when I was really entered into the world of music. After that I started to get interested in many genres of music such as pop, hip hop, and R&B. As a singer, I was shocked by Lady Gaga’s songs. I admired how she could express her opinion in such a beautiful way, sonically and lyrically. I dreamt of becoming a singer-songwriter and performer because of her.

How did your visit to New York city come about? And was it daunting for you to come here?

When I was in the 7th grade, I was already with my management team in Japan and they told me they could support me if I can work hard. So I told them I want to go to New York City, if I can pass the English exam (TOEFL). I chose New York City because it was felt like the right place for me and destiny to me. As I made several trips to NYC, I went to open mics all over the city, and also performed at the Amateur Night at Apollo Theater, where I won first place. Because of that, I got an opportunity to study in NYC for the entire school year during 9th grade. It was a big big opportunity, and I wasn’t scared of it at all. All I had was a dream and I worked hard to make it happen. Then I came back to work on my album released earlier this year!

You’ve graced stages all around the world as a singer and dancer, is dancing something you still have a strong passion for?

Dancing is a lot of fun. It’s so exciting! Still now, I often dance at home and sometimes I even pay for a lesson at the dance studio. When I’m feeling low, dancing is the best way to exercise my body. Also I started to dance in front of my phone camera thanks to TikTok. Covering kpop choreography has been my fave during the quarantine.

How were you discovered?

I started going to the dance school when I was in the 2nd grade. There, I also learned singing too and had many opportunities to sing in front of many people.

Let’s talk about the new song “No Ordinary is Love” – it’s a cover of a classic song by Sade, Why did you decide to cover this song in particular and what makes it special to you?

I had to stay home because of COVID-19. It was heartbreaking because I had to cancel my tour that I practiced for for so long! During quarantine, I went into the archives of so many hit releases including 90s classic jams. That’s when I found myself in love with “No Ordinary Love” – it just hit different and meant something completely new during these unprecedented times. We’re working so hard to support each other, stay in touch, and give our love to each other during this pandemic, and this virus is just keeping us apart. But this love is no ordinary love or life, and I wanted to express this feeling to my fans. So I took this idea to my friends Zak Leever and DJ Shiftee, and they helped makee this release possible.

After this Covid-19 pandemic is over, are you hoping to tour again? And if so where would you like to go back to and why?
Of course! Right now, I have a place to sing online since I launched MIREITV on my IG but the real stage obviously beats virtual. I wanna be in the same room with my fans, and really feel connected by the energy as we all sing songs together. Right now I’m based in Tokyo and I was touring Japan mainly, but I wanna go all around the world since I have fans everywhere now! I wanna meet every fan and say thank you, truly. I am thankful we’re connected with the internet!
Is there anything you’d like to say to all your fans and followers out there on the world wide web?Thank you for standing by. me and spending time with me as we all figure out how to deal with this pandemic together. It’s a super hard time for everyone. I’m so glad to meet you and feel your love, realizing I can send and receive it online. This is all possible because you’re with me. When the pandemic is over, I’ll go and see all of you. All I want to do is meet all of you, and sing our favorite songs together. Wait for me until then. Love you <3
Before we go, what does 2020 hold for you?

I had my first global and English-language release arlier this year and have been communicating online with my fans all around the world so far. 2020 seems to be on hold right now, I was meant to finally tour worldwide this year so I hope I can do that next year. Until then, I want my fans to stay with me as we connect online! I’ve been making changes to MIREITV to make it fun for everyone, and it’s taken a talk show format almost, on top of my covers and performances. Hope to see you there!

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